Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Saturday that his country would always have to be ready to defend itself, when asked by a reporter whether Ukraine needed to be more like Israel.
During a news conference at a metro station in Kyiv, Zelensky was asked by a reporter whether the Ukrainian people are ready to live in “a state of high alert like the State of Israel.”
Zelensky responded to the question without mentioning the Jewish state.
“This is not a question as to whether we are ready or not. I believe all Ukrainians who stayed — not including the women and children who left — that more than 90% of our people are united. We are in a state where we know we have to defend our land,” Zelensky said, according to a translation by Reuters.
“I believe that when we win we will be the state with the most powerful army and the most experienced army in terms of protecting its people and security. We will become one of the strongest states in Europe. This is the only solution to our situation,” he said.
“This is the reality we live in and the reality of our neighborhood,” Zelensky said, using a phrase often employed by Israeli officials.
In response to a different question, he called again for a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in an effort to “put an end to the war.”
“I think that whoever started this war will be able to end it,” he said.
Zelensky was “not afraid to meet” Putin if it would lead to a peace deal between Russia and Ukraine, he added.
“From the beginning, I have insisted on talks with the Russian president,” said Zelensky.
“It’s not that I want (to meet him), it’s that I have to meet him so as to settle this conflict by diplomatic means,” he said. Jerusalem has been mentioned as a potential venue for talks between Putin and Zelensky if they were to take place.
Zelensky repeated his warning that Ukraine would break off talks if Russia killed the remaining Ukrainian soldiers in the besieged Black Sea port of Mariupol.
“If our men are killed in Mariupol and if these pseudo-referendums are organized in the region of Kherson, then Ukraine will withdraw from any negotiation process,” he said.
Zelensky said he was prepared to exchange Ukraine’s soldiers defending the city “in whatever format” to save “these people who find themselves in a horrible situation, surrounded.”
Ukrainian officials earlier Saturday accused Russia of thwarting a fresh attempt to evacuate civilians from Mariupol.
Zelensky said that “today is one of the hardest days” since the start of the Russian siege of the city at the beginning of March.
He also said eight people had been killed and 18 wounded in Russian strikes on the Black Sea port of Odessa, updating an earlier toll given by local officials.
The Odessa and Mariupol deaths all but buried hopes of a truce for Orthodox Easter.